Study of dual-career academic couples launched at 25 schools

A multi-year study of dual academic couples—spouses who both work at universities—is being launched this fall by the Institute for Research on Women and Gender to help institutions understand this growing trend and assess how policies and practices affect its development.

"I believe it's the next important issue for attracting and retaining women" in leading faculty and academic positions, said institute Director Londa Schiebinger. "We want to look at policies and see how they're different from practices." The study of 25 leading American research universities will culminate in policy recommendations aimed at helping to recruit and retain greater numbers of female professionals and allowing both men and women to flourish in academic settings, Schiebinger said.

To kick off the pioneering study, Lisa Wolf-Wendel, author of The Two-Body Problem: Dual-Career-Couple Hiring Practices in Higher Education, will lead a roundtable discussion from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15, at Serra House on Salvatierra Way. Wolf-Wendel will talk about perceptions of and problems facing academic couples. A discussion focusing on academic administrators and a follow-up meeting will be held during Winter Quarter.

According to Schiebinger, the study is timely because women have experienced important gains in both numbers and status in academia during recent decades. For example, the percentage of doctoral degrees awarded to women increased from 13 to 45 percent from 1970 to 2000, and the percentage of full-time women faculty at research universities rose from 10 to 25 percent during the same period. Despite these increases, she said, women are adversely affected by the dual-career phenomenon because they tend to marry professional men more often than the other way around, which can restrict job mobility. In addition, such women tend to marry within their own discipline. For example, only 7 percent of the members of the American Physical Society are women, but 44 percent of them are married to other physicists, and an additional 25 percent are married to some other type of scientist. As a result, both married and domestic partners in dual-career relationships suffer from decreased job mobility, she said.

Research Associate Andrea Davies Henderson, who earned her doctorate in history from Stanford, will lead the study. Henderson's research has focused on the gendered implications of catastrophic events, both during the moment of crisis and in the creation of disaster-relief policy. Her dissertation, Reconstructing Home: Gender, Disaster Relief and Social Life After the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, 1906-1915, is under review by the University of Chicago Press. A former San Francisco firefighter, Henderson also has consulted on an upcoming documentary of the 1906 earthquake for the History Channel.